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What do we wear to worship God?

No matter what county, state, or country in which you reside, we all have assumptions and presuppositions of “how things should be.” Growing up in the South, I was always taught to wear a tie to church, never wear a hat inside a building (especially church), and always remove your hat to pray. These are all fine traditions, but the risk with all traditions is that they can become, like cleanliness, “next to Godliness.” Couple that with an already religious culture like Greenville, SC and we can easily slip into “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7).

I always appreciate the interactions I receive from folks that ask sincere questions, presented in a loving way, genuinely seeking dialogue and not only to voice their opinion. I received one such email recently that I thought would be helpful to post here. I asked this person if I could post their question; a paraphrase is given here along with my response.

Question: “Do certain choices in fashion violate a sense of decorum and show disrespect to God, particularly for those that lead the church in worship (i.e. pastors, preachers, music team members)? I’ve tried to analyze whether or not my views of disrespect in clothing are simply old-fashioned, it’s only been in recent years that men have started wearing hats/caps in church, because uncovering the head before God has generally been acknowledged to be a sign of respect. As the culture changes and begins considering this to be a meaningless exercise, I wondered if maybe we might still want to ask those who are up front to follow what some might consider to be a basic level of decorum. Maybe I’m alone in my thinking, if so please tell me and I’ll shut my mouth and praise God.”

Response: “First, I’d like to mention that I think the question of whether you are alone in the opinion is inconsequential to your argument. This is the first email I’ve received on this issue, but it doesn’t mean you’re wrong or that your opinion has no value. In fact, I appreciate you refraining from using bandwagon propaganda like, ‘I’m not the only one that feels this way.’ Those statements do not strengthen an argument; they are, like I said, pure propaganda. So, thank you; I hear and value your concerns.

Secondly, we should start with a question of the ‘biblicalness’ of the issue. I don’t see this as a biblical issue or even as one that intrinsically reflects a respectful or disrespectful heart toward the Lord. In southern culture, the teaching of 1 Corinthians 11 regarding head-coverings has translated into a societal expectation that men remove their hats indoors, particularly at church and especially during prayer. I think you know that our church doesn’t hold an interpretation that says this passage refers to hats. If we did hold that interpretation, we would not only ask our men not to wear hats, but also we would ask all the women to wear hats. If someone chooses to interpret that passage as a ‘hats passage,’ then the application applies to both sexes. So, I don’t think we are talking about a biblical issue regarding hats.

Thirdly, the clothing aspect is similar. Most clothing decisions are simply fashion choices. While wearing no shirt to worship God is NOT intrinsically disrespectful to God, it IS immodest in that setting. This is the biblical principle we follow – what you have described as a ‘basic level of decorum.’ Biblically, modesty is the issue we try to enforce – in other words, anything sexually alluring should be avoided in that context.

Lastly, I would like to encourage you to guard your heart against attributing respect or disrespect based on outward appearance. The outward appearance is mere ‘window dressing’ that is passing away. God doesn’t look at it and 1 Peter 3 downplays our outward dress and focuses our attention to the inward. Likewise, Colossians 3:12-13 instructs us on how to ‘clothe’ our inner man which will result in outward actions. I know men that remove their hat when they enter a church or pray, only to hear them take God’s name in vain without thought. I also know men that don’t regard the hat issue as important, and yet have great respect and love for our Lord. I am one of them! I love Jesus and I wear a hat sometimes during prayer or even in church. The two are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, we have to guard our hearts when we see someone that outwardly looks different to us, or when we’re not comfortable with their style. Most of these issues come down to style and are not a direct reflection of respect or disrespect toward God.

I have found an article that Bob Kauflin wrote to be extremely helpful to my thinking (‘What Do We Wear to Worship God?‘).

As I said before, thank you so much for your email and for speaking with courage for yourself! I hope my thoughts are helpful.”